By: Paul Stroili
“So there’s this theatre in Michigan that’s doing one of my plays,” my friend Michael Grady said to me. Michael is an amazing writer, a brilliant playwright and the funniest person I’ve ever met. We were roommates in Chicago in the early ‘90s, but it was now 1996 and my wife Monica and I had just relocated to Los Angeles.
He told me about The Purple Rose, and the hometown tie with Jeff Daniels. I was hooked on the idea of it – edgy, professional and thought-provoking theatre in tiny Chelsea, MI. A great idea, but surely a vanity project – it’ll never last. That Daniels guy?He must be crazy.
Fast forward about 18 years, I find myself as Managing Director of SeaGlass Theatre in Los Angeles. We are looking for our next production – we want something unique, with strong characters, a quirky, dark comedy. Our Artistic Director Kimberly Van Luin looks to the internet to search past seasons of smaller, regional theatre companies, like ours.
“You ever heard of The Purple Rose?” She said. I had indeed.
“They did this play about a mortician who becomes an agoraphobe when her husband dies in a freak accident brought on by a pigeon and his peanut allergy.”
“And… it was successful?”
“Yeah, check out these reviews.”
“Man, those people in Michigan must be crazy.”
The play was “Wake” by Carey Crim. It had its world premiere at The Purple Rose, and became the next show for SeaGlass Theatre. I should amend that; it became the most successful show in the history of our theatre company, both critically and commercially.
At around the same time, Cyrus Mirakhor, Archana Shinde and I founded Mirrorcore Productions, a production company for film and television. We had done a couple of short films together that did pretty well on the festival circuit and were ready for our first feature. I invited them both to see “Wake.”
“Hmmmm… great story, strong female characters, limited locations, small cast, quirky…”
“I think we can make a movie.”
“What’s that budget again? We must be crazy.”
So, Carey Crim turned her play into a screenplay, and became our lifelong friend in the process.
Fast forward again. Twenty years in Los Angeles was enough. It would eventually become an office of sorts, but it was time for Monica and me to return to our sweet home, Chicago. In Spring 2017, the Actors Equity website posts that The Purple Rose is having general auditions for their upcoming season. Sign me up.
“You’re going to drive four hours for an audition? You must be crazy.”
But I did. It went well and I was invited back to audition for a specific role, a couple of months later.
We go into pre-production for “Wake” in Los Angeles. Cyrus and Archana start staffing and set up a production office – locations are secured, money is raised, people are hired, contracts are signed, money is raised, schedules are planned, actors are cast, trailers are rented and money is raised.
I join them and we start shooting “Wake,” the movie – but I have to hightail it out for a couple of days for my Purple Rose audition.
“You’re going to fly four hours for an audition? You must be…”
Yes, there seems to be a pattern developing.
I’m so exhausted, I can’t think. I audition on adrenalin, feel and desire. And I get the role. Turns out, not thinking is a good thing. Wish I knew that in Los Angeles…
To the present – Mirrorcore Productions has wrapped a wonderful movie that will be submitted to festivals in 2018.
I am truly grateful to this little theatre in Chelsea, MI, and am indebted to this purple furnace of creativity, this thriving rose of art, outreach and education. This place that has given me, and continues to give me so much.
This crazy idea… that could.
Paul Stroili is an actor, writer, director and producer. He lives in Chicago.